10 May 2024

The Inland Waterway Association’s annual celebration of the waterways in London took place over the first May bank holiday from Saturday 4th to Monday 6th May. Little Venice was once again transformed into a vibrant spectacle of colour and vitality as over 100 boats arrived from far and wide, and visitors from all walks of life came together to share their passion for waterways. This annual gathering saw almost 10,000 visitors on the first day, with a similar number joining on an equally sunny day on Sunday. Even the torrential rain on the bank holiday Monday did little to dampen the buzz.

There really was something for everyone with narrowboats, both modern and historic, moored alongside widebeam boats in the Pool. Continuous cruisers, liveaboards, and leisure boaters, local residents and those from further afield gathered to celebrate the waterways and highlight the importance of the theme of this year’s Cavalcade, “Funding Britain’s Waterways”. The theme reflected the widespread recognition that what we know and love about the waterways network is under threat, with the government’s decision to curtail funding for Canal & River Trust and the increased operational and inflationary demands on navigation authorities nationwide. It was encouraging to see many boaters proudly flying Fund Britain’s Waterways flags and sporting FBW banners on the sides of their boats.

The event was officially opened by the VIP party led by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Councillor Patricia McAllister who was joined by Councillor Geoff Barraclough, Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development at Westminster City Council, Richard Parry, CEO of Canal & River Trust, and Mike Wills, National Chair of IWA, Libby Bradshaw, Ceremonial and Children’s Activities Manager for the event, and Paul Rodgers, Event Director and Chair of the organising committee.

The Lord Mayor welcomed everyone to the City of Westminster and thanked IWA for organising the event. Following brief speeches and a resounding round of applause from the thousands of visitors lining the towpath to thank the over 100 volunteers who help put on the event, the Lord Mayor was invited to ring the bell to formally open the festival. This was echoed by cheers around the Pool, the ringing of bells and horns, and the start of the Pageant.

The long weekend included a packed schedule, as always, with a unique selection of events and activities. Stallholders and food stands brought a variety of crafts and interest to the event this year, many being based locally to Little Venice. Particular highlights included many regular attendees such as hand-woven baskets made by WoodWoolWillow, Peruvian delights by Inkas Craft, Handmade by Janet, and our regular Candle Powered Victorian Steamboats. Visitors were treated to many delicious treats too, including the vibrant Caribbean Hut, flavourful Moroccan cuisine from Harissa & Lemon, and of course plenty of ice cream which proved to be popular whatever the weather! As in previous years, we welcomed the ever-professional Jervis team and their real ale bar which provided the perfect place to enjoy a break in the sunshine – and shelter during the rain!

One of the most popular destinations in Rembrandt Gardens was the Wild over Waterways marquee, which offered a range of activities to keep the little ones entertained and spark their curiosity in the waterways. Children and adults alike were entertained by whimsical performances from the ‘Suitcase Circus’ aboard the Puppet Barge. Faces were being painted and there was plenty of learning and joviality in the marquee over the weekend. Sunday saw the return of the much-loved Teddy Bears’ picnic in the beautiful surrounds of the gardens while activities for older children and young people were led by the Pirate Castle from Camden, with paddle sports taking place across the weekend. 

Whilst the theme of this year’s event focused on the existential threat to the waterways nationally, the event also continued its tradition of engaging with the local community. One way of doing this is through the Schools Art Exhibition which featured a range of impressive art projects from local schools. The message that our waterways should be saved for the enjoyment of all came through loud and clear in the creative and collaborative efforts of younger canal fans.

This year’s Event Director, Paul Rodgers, who joined the organising committee for the first time this year, expressed his thanks to the team of volunteers without whom the event would not be possible. Over 100 volunteers were mobilised to deliver this year’s event both in the planning process and the hugely demanding logistical deployment on the ground. This included the experienced team from IWA’s Waterway Recovery Group, more commonly seen across the country supporting canal restoration projects, who transformed Little Venice and the surrounding area in the week before the event.

Collaboration with partners is also crucial to the success of the event with Canal & River Trust, Paddington Central and Westminster City Council taking the lead in a demonstration of what can be achieved when waterways charities, businesses, government, and the many supporters of the event come together.

This year the evenings brought a vibrant celebration of boating too. Friday night was the regular quiz, a packed tent for our annual Martin Ludgate extravaganza – raising nearly £100 from the raffle for IWA. Saturday night once again saw an open mic night in the bar, compered by Mark Saxon. On Sunday evening, Craig Haslam once again excelled as Master of Ceremonies for the Procession of Illuminated Boats, where the boaters covered their craft with as many lights as would fit to the delight of hundreds of spectators standing on the Horse Bridge and around the Pool. thrilled everyone who saw their performances and we thank them so much for their participation.

On Monday afternoon, the awards were presented by John Edmonds, Vice President of IWA London Region. The award winners for 2024 were:

Marcus Boudier Trophy

For the best decorated privately entered boat in Saturday’s themed Pageant, was awarded to Galatee owned by Simon Hodgkinson & Sarah LaBrasca of Slash Arts & Canal Dream CIC

The Ray Dunford Buckby Can Trophy

For the best decorated boat entered by a waterway or community group:

Not awarded

The Cruise Electric Trophy

For the best illuminated boat in Sunday evening’s Procession:

Tros Yr Afon, steerer Phil Gaskell

Runner up: Galatee, owned by Simon Hodgkinson & Sarah LaBrasca of Slash Arts & Canal Dream CIC

The Graham Capelin Award

For the best entry by a boater who has not previously taken part in either the Saturday Pageant or Illuminated Boats:

Purple Emperor, owned by Ian Marr

The Westminster Trophy

Donated by the City of Westminster for the winner of the Boat Handling Competition:

Iquitos, steerer Mike Moore

Runner up: Fulbourne, steerer Robin Hendley

3rd place: Middlesex, steerer Tim Lewis

The Roger Squires Trophy

Presented by St Pancras Cruising Club in recognition of Roger’s ten years as their Commodore, it is awarded to the best novice competitor in the Boat Handling Competition:

Purple Emperor, steerer Ian Marr

The Mike Stevens Memorial Trophy

Goes to the ‘Best Boat’ at Canalway Cavalcade, selected from all the boat entries at the event, it is awarded in recognition of Mike’s outstanding contribution to IWA and Canalway Cavalcade during his lifetime:

Lion, owned by Michael Pinnock

The Idle Women Shield

Sponsored by Jan Knox, proprietor of Canal Experience Training School, the shield was awarded to Thisuldo, steered by Charlotte Trimby

Runner up: Badger, steered by Naomi Goldsmith

3rd place: Free Bird, steered by Cath Jennings

The Vic Trott Memorial Trophy

Awarded for the best Boaters’ Sunday Best costume. This year, it was awarded to Hannah Maude (Iquitos).

Mike Wills, IWA National Chair, underscored the value of members, volunteers and partners in the many activities that IWA is involved in, saying:

We need your help! If you have enjoyed your experience at Cavalcade, tell others about it. Financial support is also welcome so, it the spirit of our theme this year, please donate some money! Even more importantly, consider donating some time to IWA. There are opportunities to gain hands on experience of waterway restoration, or maybe just to offer your experience, knowledge, and skills to the many areas in which we are engaged.

Plans are already underway for next year’s Canalway Cavalcade which is planned for 3rd, 4th, and 5th May 2025 and the team will welcome offers to volunteer for both the planning committee and at next year’s event.

Join the Committee

Do you love Canalway Cavalcade and would like to be a part of the team behind the scenes?

We are incredibly thankful for all of their hard work and dedication as a huge amount of effort goes into organising an event of this scale. We need to fill several vacancies on our organising committee.

There is already a superb team in place but we need extra support to make sure no one becomes overloaded. Having the organising committee at full capacity will ensure that Canalway Cavalcade remains a really fun and interesting event to be involved with!

All vacancies are voluntary roles. Meetings are held once a month on Zoom and become more frequent in the run up to the event.

If you fancy getting involved, please contact us with a short description of your experience/interests.